Marsha Savage, front, admires the work of Barbara Jaenicke, right, whose “Little Old Shed” won Best in Show.

Elsie Dresch has been interested in painting much of her life and has been a member of the Southeastern Pastel Society since the group was founded in 1988.

“I’d miss it if I didn’t have a life filled with painting,” the 87-year-old Buckhead resident said.

She’s among artists from the United States and Australia whose works grace the walls of the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art in the pastel society’s 15th International Juried Exhibition. The show opened with a reception May 17 and will continue through June 24. It includes 70 pieces done with pastels, crayon-like sticks of dry pigment used to create works of rich colors.

Dresch says her pastels are inspired by 19th Century French Impressionists such as Camille Pissaro and Edgar Degas. Pissarro and Degas were two 19th century French Impressionists who were instrumental in ushering pastel techniques into the 20th century. Pissarro is known for his luscious landscapes and Degas became famous for bringing ballerinas to life in his canvas.

“I identify with Pissarro because I work as hard as he did, but I’m also crazy about Degas and Cézanne,” she said.

The exhibition’s Best of Show Award this year was bestowed upon member Barbara Jaenicke, who teaches painting at the Spruill Center for the Arts in Dunwoody. “I’m extremely excited to have won this award,” Jaenicke said. “It is truly an honor.”

She was honored for a piece titled “Little Old Shed.” “It makes me want to go to the shed to see what’s behind the field,” said Nancy Belknap, one of Jaenicke’s former students.

Second place was awarded to Alan Flattmann for “Boarding the St. Charles Streetcar.” Third place went to Sandy Springs resident Evelyn Breit, the society’s president since 2009, for “Everlasting,” which depicts a nude.

Breit said a master-level pastelist from the society typically judges the pieces among those selected by the society for the exhibition.

Promoting pastel as an art medium is the main goal of the society, which was created not only for artists, but also for everyone who appreciates art. The society has approximately 250 members. The membership fee is $25 a year. During the monthly meetings at the Spruill Center, the members enjoy educational lectures, demonstrations and discussions about different pastel techniques.

Sandy Springs resident and society member Wanda Mack credits the society’s instructional meetings for helping her fine tune her skills, which she said she discovered by accident.

“My life changed five years ago when I was out of town visiting my sister to celebrate both of our birthdays,” she said. “I took a pastel workshop on a whim, just for fun.” Now, I can’t imagine my life without painting.”

Mack said it took a particular set of circumstances to bring her to pastels.

“I now look at everything, such as photographs, through the perspective of a pastel,” she said. “It has been a blessing.”

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